Is being creative the same as being different? In a world of “there are many ways, but only one right way,” and “it’s either wrong or right,” the word “creative” has taken a beating.
There were the go-getters who tried to make “disruptive” a synonym for “creative.” The connotation of disruptive is often negative–an idea barging in, taking over, crashing the status quo. But the disrupters were mostly being different, and not necessarily creative, which has the connotation of being visually interesting, but not necessarily practical.
Creativity carries the burden of explaining ourselves. Creativity is not necessarily a new invention, a new method, although creativity is required to create. Most of us really don’t want to be too creative. We want to think we are different, but not actually be different. Being called “creative” feels a lot better than being labeled “different.” We prefer being different enough to still be interesting, maybe eccentric, but accepted, rather than stand-alone different. There is fear in having to explain ourselves—and failing.
Creativity is often thought of as self-expression—visual art, singing, dancing, writing, are examples. But often creativity is thought of only in terms of monetary gain. “Will this add to the bottom line?” But that’s not the point of creativity.
We live in a world of image, driven by consumer values. Creativity includes pressure to be accepted, to fit in, to have supporters, successful Instagram “likes”, re-tweets. To hold back on wilder ideas in order to gather acceptance and “likes.” Building an audience can be a goal, but the goal of creativity isn’t building an audience.
Creative self-expression is more therapy for the soul than it is a tool for personal financial advancement. Of course you can sell your work, but if you want to be creative without selling you work, that is a clear choice you have. And a limitless one.
Once you turn creative self-expression into a business, you are trading creative limits for financial gain. It’s not a one-on-one trade, but it changes how you think of your creativity.
I’ve sold my work and made a living doing it. Right now, I’m working on creative self expression to reduce anxiety (there’s fuel for that fire in every minute of the day), self-growth, and self-care. I’ll never sell what I make, because it is not geared to popular taste. But I love this work, and I love not having to explain it to anyone. And I love the feeling of getting better at solving problems–in my art and in life. For me, at least, creativity is problem solving. Sometimes practical, sometimes imagined, but it clears a path ahead.
—Quinn McDonald is working on a book, The Invisible, Visible World, on creative self-expression. She teaches creative thinking and problem solving. She also teaches writing.